Britain has been pushing for “ continuous” Brexit talks in a bid to break through the ongoing deadlock in negotiations, Peter Foster reported last night. There has been a breakthrough of sorts, as David Davis was able to tell peers this afternoon after coming off the phone with Michel Barnier that negotiators will meet their European counterparts again in the “second half of next week”.
The Frenchman said earlier in the day that the agenda would be set “ in the next few hours or days”, and indicated he was ready to speed up talks. However, the Brexit Secretary suggested that both sides may have different views of what acceleration meant. He might want to “strategically accelerate” onto the second half of the process, talking about trade, while Monsieur Barnier may be keener for a swift resolution on existing issues like the Brexit bill. He has also revealed that thousands of new staff are being hired across Whitehall to make sure Britain is ready to walk away from the table, if necessary, without a deal.
This posturing over speed is not a substitute for the negotiation process itself, as the issues left to be resolved remain tricky. The fundamentals of the stand-off over EU demands for some €60bn financial settlement remain unchanged, despite warm words from the likes of Angela Merkel. Germany, in fact, is continuing to press for a hard line.
Nonetheless, officials want to start being able to show progress, as British sources say the current three-day negotiation rounds capped by press conferences simply highlight the ongoing tensions. “We need to create an administrative process that gives both sides room to move,” one told the Telegraph. Mr Davis insisted to peers this afternoon that he didn’t regret following the current format for talks, but he will know that progress needs to be shown soon. If talks are to proceed at speed onto trade in the New Year, next week will be a chance for both sides to show how possible that is.
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